Review: The Tenth Circle

circle-500Recap: Trixie Stone’s life and that of her parents turn upside down when she comes home from a party, telling them her boyfriend, Jason, just raped her. Trixie’s father, Daniel, reverts back to the days before he was married, bursting with anger, ready to rage. Trixie’s mother, Laura, is full of guilt, wondering if this ever would have happened had she not had a recent affair with one of the TA’s from the college-level literature course she teaches.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, Jason, an all-star hockey player and student, is found dead days later, after seemingly jumping from a bridge in town. But it soon turns into a murder case, and since the whole town knows about the alleged rape, they are quick to blame Trixie. The question of whether Trixie’s assault was actually rape is replaced by the question of who killed Jason? And unfortunately, the Stones don’t come across as being particularly reliable sources of information.

Analysis: Jodi Picoult is very Jodi Picoult with this novel, weaving the stories back and forth between the perspectives of Trixie, Daniel, Laura, Jason and the detective working the case. Interestingly, she also uses illustrations to show a different interpretation of what’s happening.

The novel is heavily influenced by the symbolism and story of Dante’s Inferno. It’s Laura’s favorite book to teach, and it just so happens to be what she’s teaching when her life starts to fall apart. Together, all the characters seems to be stirring around in their own form of Hell. Daniel is an comic strip writer and illustrator, so he uses his wife’s love of with Inferno to create a comic strip named The Tenth Circle. There are only nine circles of Hell, but Daniel’s personal Hell runs deeper, so he adds a layer. His comic strip winds up being semi-autobiographical and centers on a middle-aged man who must fight his way through ten circles of Hell to save his daughter. Those images are used throughout the book as a metaphorical story within the story.

I love the way Picoult intertwined all these other subplots with the comic strip. I also loved that The Tenth Circle (the novel, not the comic strip) takes place during the winter in cold settings, emphasizing a contrast with Hell.

The problem with the book is its ending. It’s fairly anti-climatic and predictable with one very obvious line foreshadowing the answer to the “whodunit” in the murder case. It also ends, more or less, with the climax and no resolution. During the middle section of the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. After all that build, the ending felt disappointing for a story otherwise so well told.

MVP: Daniel. He must face his past to save his future, and while the metaphors and symbolism are heavy and obvious, they work. He does what he must to save his family, and while he has a dark side, he keeps it in check.

Get The Tenth Circle in paperback now for $11.68.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

Get The Hopefuls in hardcover for $17.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Harry Potter Exhibit in the Works

rowlingDid I call it or did I call it? J.K. Rowling et al keep finding ways to make Harry Potter relevant. According to Entertainment Weekly, a new Harry Potter exhibit will open next year at the British Library.

The exhibit will commemorate the 20th — can you believe it?? Yes, I said 20TH! — anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book of the Harry Potter series (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S.). The exhibit will include things from J.K. Rowling’s archives and other goodies from British publisher Bloomsbury. The exhibit will be open October 20, 2017 until February 28, 2018.

All of this comes with the news that the latest addition to Harry Potter‘s universe, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, has sold more than three million copies.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author News, News Articles

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

harry-potter-cursed-child-poster**Spoiler Alert: This review does contain spoilers about the latest edition and all books included in the Harry Potter series.

Contributed by: Sam Sloan, friend and high school English teacher

1. First of all, the obvious, what did you think? How did the feel of the play compare to the Harry Potter novels?

Having only read each Harry Potter novel once, reading the play gave me flashbacks of sitting down with the fifth novel. I had swallowed up the first four novels in late middle/early high school. I have a clear memory of taking the fifth one from my sister’s bedroom and giddily running off to my room to start it, excited to be reunited with old friends and to see how life would be after the horrors of the Triwizard Cup.

When I read the play, I felt my old friends had, like me, had gotten older but maybe not any wiser. They had some of the same problems with adulting that I have– despite having saved the world, Harry still struggles with doing what’s right and facing his past and adolescent children who struggle beneath the shadow his celebrity casts upon them. (I haven’t saved the world, but isn’t that the secret dream of any high school English teacher?)

Unlike the novels, the play forced me to stop and actually imagine a stage upon which this action would take place. Reading the novels allowed me to totally immerse myself in a make-believe world of dragons and Quidditch. This was a little different, as I had to imagine what this would look like on a Muggle stage.

2. What was it like reading Harry Potter in play format? How did the format affect or not affect the story?

Personally, I like reading plays because the stage directions are more than just adverbs that describe how a character should deliver a certain line. A narrator that is actively a part of the play gives the audience information about why something is happening, and the stage directions provide a reader with insight and background information that the reader might not necessarily receive through the delivery of lines. When the reader gets to read this, it helps to better create those characters on that stage in their minds.

3. Did you have a favorite new character?

Scorpius Malfoy. He’s self-aware: he knows the rumors about him, but he also knows that his parents didn’t want to raise him the way Lucius raised Draco. His mother is a tender character, who obviously enhanced his sensitivity and ability to tune out gossip. His innocence and desire for a friend melted my icy Slytherin heart. And he also validated my love for Slytherins. Scorpius is so the opposite of his father when Draco was a child and is such a good contrast to the moody, resentful Albus.

His crush on Rose and his desire to make sure that he and Albus didn’t create a Rose-less world was heart-warming. It’s nice to see that Draco and Astoria Malfoy raised their son to be the opposite of Draco or his horrible little friends. Not all Slytherins are jerks, and Scorpius proves that.

4. What was different from the books? (You mentioned some changes with the magic itself and also the inclusion — or lack thereof — of certain characters.) Did you like these changes? Was there a reason you think they were made?

Being that I only read the books once, a lot of the magic rules were foggy in my mind. I remember that Hermione had a time-turner in the third book to help with her class load, but I didn’t remember the parameters of using a time-turner. I did a quick Google search to refresh my memory (big shout out to the Harry Potter Wiki page).

Whether or not the “rules” of some of the magic were followed to a T is hard for me to say, but the magic served its purpose for the means of a play.

One thing that irked me was that Neville was frequently spoken about between the characters but didn’t make an appearance. Thanks to the time-turning, Harry’s dreams, and the talking paintings of the magic world, the reader was reacquainted with Snape, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and Cedric, but not Neville.

Neville spent his whole childhood being put down by his peers and even his own grandmother, but he played a crucial role in Voldemort’s defeat. He easily could’ve been included. Disappointing, to say the least, because I consider him as heroic as Harry, Hermione, and Ron. It was as if he were still being picked on.

Also surprisingly left out was Luna Lovegood. The big difference between her omission and Neville’s is that she was not even mentioned by other characters in passing. She was good enough for Harry and Ginny to name theirdaughter after her, but not good enough to include in the play? Hmph.

harry-potter-cursed-child-poster

It was nice to have an additional story, but it wasn’t necessary. I really did like the way the series ended. Good triumphed over evil. For the first time in his life Harry Potter was as close to normal as he could ever be. Ron and Hermione wound up together (despite me not being able to understand how the lovable Ron tolerated her know-it- all, sometimes obnoxious attitude). Draco Malfoy learned the difference between doing what’s right and doing what’s popular. I like that ending!

But like I said, it was like visiting old friends. I liked being able to hear Snape’s voice in my head again. I felt a crushing sadness when Harry spoke to the painting of Dumbledore about being a father. It was wonderful to be in that world again. But I didn’t need to be. The novels can stand the test of time through their themes of friendship, generosity, and tolerance; the play emphasizes and reminds the reader of those themes, but Potter fans likely haven’t forgotten them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

‘Dance Moms’ 13-Year-Old Star To Pen Memoir, Fiction Trilogy

maddie-ziegler-435Some people spend their entire lives writing to pen the perfect book. For Maddie Zeigler, it only took 13  years. But wait. That is her entire life considering the Dance Moms star is just 13  years old.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Zeigler is working on writing both a memoir and a YA trilogy about dance for Gallery Books and Aladdin Books. The Maddie Diaries will reflect on her years starring the Lifetime reality TV show Dance Moms. It will also include advice and lessons for teens and dancers. It’s set to be released in March of 2017.

Her fiction novels will also be about — you guessed it! — young dancers. The novels are set to be released in the Fall 2017, Fall 2018 and Fall 2019.

IMHO, there will always be a market for people who want to read about dancers — whether it’s young people who dream of being professional dancers or those — like me — who used to dance and feel a sense of nostalgia when they read books about it (see Astonish Me).

Zeigler is a famous dancer, best known for Dance Moms and for playing mini-Sia in many of popstar Sia’s music videos and performances. Currently Zeigler is a judge on the kids version of So You Think You Can Dance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author News, News Articles

J.K. Rowling Announces End of Harry Potter’s Story After Record-Breaking Manuscript Book Released

rowlingIt’s the end of an era. For real this time. Allegedly. Best-selling Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has announced Harry Potter’s story is done, after the release of the latest Potter installment Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. 

Cursed Child is the script of a play created by Rowling that’s currently being performed in London. The play follows Harry, his friends and his son 19 years after the final Harry Potter book. According to Entertainment WeeklyRowling spoke Saturday night at the London premiere of Cursed Child, and that’s when she told the audience that Harry  “goes on a very big journey during these two plays and then, yeah, I think we’re done.”

Cursed Child, the script, was released just yesterday, but was already breaking records before that, according to Entertainment Weekly. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble announced the book topped their bestsellers list, making it likely to be the bestselling book of 2016 and easily the most pre-ordered book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007.

So is it really the end of Harry Potter? Doubtful, I’d say. J.K. Rowling has told us she was done with Harry Potter after the last book was released in 2007, and then she went on to create the web site Pottermore, and soon after that came a play, its manuscript and another movie based on a spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, due to be released in theaters November 18, 2016. J.K. Rowling not only created Harry Potter, but she also created an entire fantastical world for children, and the amount of stories that can come from that world are unlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author News, News Articles

Review: Meet the Regulars

hqdefaultRecap: More so than any other city in the United States, New York City is the one that best represents the “melting pot” that is America. Each of the city’s five boroughs has its own personality, while still being diverse. But likely the borough that has changed the most in recent years is Brooklyn. Brooklyn has gentrified. What used to be a predominantly older-skewed borough now appeals to younger people. Where rent used to remain low, it now skyrockets. Things are changing in Brooklyn. But many of the people who have always live there don’t plan on leaving, and the people who move in don’t want to either.

Meet the Regulars explores all of these people — young, old, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, tattooed, clean-cut, artists and corporate workers. The book profiles random people — including some celebrities, actors, comedians and radio hosts you may know —  who live in, work in or just simply frequent Brooklyn and the many restaurants, shops, salons, yoga studios, clubs, bars, and even bowling alleys where they are regulars.

Each of these interviews is taken from an interview series on the New York magazine partner blog Bedford + Bowery. But the book is made cohesive with intermittent essays from the author about the changing face of Brooklyn, the gentrification within the borough and the technology-driven force of millennials.

AnalysisMeet the Regulars is the perfect portrayal of everything Brooklyn and New York City represent: diversity — diversity in its people, diversity in its culture, diversity in its businesses. The book reads more like a coffee table book, since it includes many photos of its interview subjects and the places where they’re “regulars.” By including brief interviews with the people, it’s easy to fly through.

And while you might think this book is all about the cool places in  Brooklyn — and okay, it kind of is — it also uses these places to tell the stories of Brooklyn. Inevitably, when people start talking about the borough and the changes they’ve seen there, they then start talking about the history of the borough. I know more about Brooklyn and its people now than I ever did before, and I’ve spent a good amount of time in Brooklyn.

Meet the Regulars serves as a coffee table book, a social studies book, a compilation of profiles and in some sense, a compilation of reviews. Thanks to the awesome map and index in the back, there are a lot of new places in Brooklyn I want to visit. And a lot more people I want to meet.

Get Meet the Regulars now in hardcover for $13.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews